Dick Vermeil gets a gleam in his eye every time he talks about second-round pick Kawika Mitchell. A middle linebacker, Mitchell missed most of training camp and the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury but made his debut Saturday night in a 26-16 win over Minnesota.
His first play did not disappoint.
Mitchell, whose long hair flys from under his helmet, came free on a blitz stunt in the second quarter, turned the corner with blinding speed and smashed into Daunte Culpepper just as the gigantic quarterback released the ball.
The play showed why the Chiefs were so infatuated with the former South Florida star on draft day. Speed and willingness to hit make Mitchell a player to watch.
"Oh, I know what he can do, I've seen it," Vermeil said. "He's special."
Mitchell already has been dubbed "Junior" in reference to Junior Seau by teammates and could soon earn his way onto the field. Mike Maslowski is the current starter at middle linebacker and is coming off a season in which he set a new team record for tackles in a season. But Maslowski was the weak-side linebacker then, and he will have to play well to fight off Mitchell.
If Mitchell finds his way onto the field it will continue a dramatic increase in team speed from 2002 when Maslowksi, Lew Bush, Glenn Cadrez and Marvcus Patton formed one of the slowest linebacking crews in the NFL. Patton has since retired and Bush and Cadrez are no longer with the Chiefs.
Now, Maslowski has moved to the middle and is flanked by the speedy Shawn Barber, who was signed as a free agent from Philadelphia and Scott Fujita, a 2002 fifth-round pick out of California who has the speed to play the strong side over tight ends.